Correctly or incorrectly, I always thought that which particle you use depends on which semantic meaning you intend, but the particles don’t carry semantic meaning themselves. (An admittedly meaningless distinction.). I think it similar to word ordering sometimes in English.
I guess it comes down to English not having anything like Japanese particles. We use different words to clarify whether we are walking “through” a park “using” a park (whatever that means) or whatever. Japanese particles seem to act like placeholders for different concepts (that we’d use different words for in English).
One other point since you brought it up: I know intellectually that から and まで are also grammatically the same, but I’ve always struggled to think of them that way. It’s now clear to me that my difficulty is because these so clearly have a semantic meaning.
Anyway, I can understand saying that を in 公園を歩く performs the same function as the word “through” in “walk through the park.” But it still seems like a weird way to think about it to me.
I think also Japanese grammar cares about different things. Whether the person in 公園を歩く is walking in, across, or through the park simply doesn’t matter from a native speaker’s perspective. If it did, there would be other context explaining that they enjoy walking through the park on the way to work, or that they wander in the park with their dog, or whatever.
This can’t be true, because if the particle carried no semantic meaning there would be no need to choose which one you use depending on what meaning you wanted to convey. We could use a single particle for all jobs, or none at all. It’s exactly because there is a meaning to each particle that you need to use the right one for the meaning you want to express.
It’s not so much that it doesn’t matter, I think, it’s that Japanese is much, much more comfortable with ambiguity and implication. The most obvious example being the relative rarity of an explicit grammatical subject.
I’ve spent a good part of the past year trying (and mostly failing) to read, understand, and translate 川柳. The authors use this ambiguity to humorous effect fairly often, making translation quite difficult. This is what captured my interest in this thread to begin with.
That’s a good reference, but I would still consider it less definitive than resources written in Japanese for Japanese.
I realize I’m guilty of EXACTLY the same thing in this very thread, but sometimes trying to fit English concepts to Japanese makes things unnecessarily complex – they are fundamentally dissimilar languages. [This English definition does seems to jibe pretty closely to the Japanese definition that @Leebo provided, though.]
Sadly, I still mostly “think in English,” but I am “thinking in Japanese” more and more these days. Whenever I come across friction points that prevent the latter (as in this thread) I try to explore them more deeply to better understand my difficulty.
I mean even in english if I said “I walked through the park” it’s ambiguous. I could have taken a trail near the outer perimeter, I could have cut straight through it in one line, I could have taken a winding trail around the middle, or I could have gone back and forth searching for something.
My Minna no Nihongo workbook simplifies the three main uses of を as 動作の対象, 経路, and 起点. I still struggle sometimes with determining what exactly constitutes a starting point or passing through, as opposed to just an action taking place in a location, but I find it a bit easier to remember it with these simpler terms rather than full definitions.
By which he meant “I follow the rules,” specifically “I stay faithful.” Though the idiom probably derives from the idea of walking along a physical line, that’s not what the song is about. To an American “walk the (physical) line” sounds odd.